Clinical reports of individuals who have been resuscitated after flatlining have recounted out-of-body experiences upon regaining consciousness. The accounts described by all these individuals share certain similarities: a sensation of becoming detached, or floating above their body, yet still able to perceive the world in front of them. In fact, some people have reported this type of disembodiment as a voluntary ability that they are able to engage at will. Is this capacity to detach consciousness from body a legitimate human talent? Or is it merely an illusion generated by some haywire neurochemistry brought close to the brink of death?
Astral projection, or the ability to separate the spiritual from the corporeal body, is predicated on the existence of an intangible soul that defines the essence of a human being. For conceptual validity, the assumption is made that the human spirit can be voluntarily separated and controlled in order to perceive the world in a location separate from the immediate area surrounding the body. This has served as the philosophical foundation for multiple mystic traditions around the world and throughout history that embrace the concept of astral travel. For example, Indian yogis were purportedly able to transcend the boundaries of their human body through intense meditation. A similar concept has been described for shamanic journeying that describes a process of entering the dreamworld. Granted, in some traditions, opening these mystical portals and “helping” the spiritual self detach from the host body required ingestion of a magical elixir which facilitated the process. Of course, modern medical science has recognized the psychoactive properties of many of these “potions”, but it does not diminish the belief in astral travel for some individuals.
In perhaps one of the most intriguing contemporary accounts of astral projection are stories of how government programs devoted significant time and energy to sponsoring and developing psychic espionage projects. The premise of these operations was to train and/or recruit individuals capable of projecting their consciousness to remotely view sensitive target locations and individuals, with the intent of procuring information and details without endangering operatives. In the U.S., this collective effort was called the Stargate Project, and was active from 1970-1995. It was ultimately terminated as a consequence of an independent review which concluded that there was not enough evidence to demonstrate the existence of such an ability.
A truly fascinating account of astral projection comes from perhaps one of the most guileless witnesses of the phenomenon: Colton Burpo, a young boy who at the time of his out of body experience was only 4 years old. While the main focus of his interpretation of events and individuals he experienced in that state remain uniquely personal and indisputably charismatic, certain details, such as accurate descriptions of where his parents were praying for his recovery, are independent of his perceptions of the afterlife. Indeed, other “near death” individuals have reported, with an unanticipated level of precision, seeing where their loved ones were and what they were doing.
While proponents for astral projection accept and entertain the possibility of this ability to offer glimpses of not only locales in our world, but others as well, skeptics correctly point out that much of what is perceived under near death conditions can be related to physiological mechanisms automatically engaged by the human body to protect itself from the stress of being near death. Indeed, neuroscience has offered many theories to explain the physiology behind the phenomenon, as almost dying is undoubtedly the type of stress that would activate many protective systems in the body. However, science has yet to offer an explanation for how some of these people were able to accurately provide details about events and people located far away, presumably gathering this information while unconscious.
Like many human mysteries, explanations for astral projection may be a long time in coming. But in the meantime, whether we continue to be entranced or skeptical, fascination with this paranormal experience will continue undiminished and unabated.